Hebrews 5:8–10 says: "Although he was a son, [Jesus] learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek." To fully understand the implications of this passage, we need to look at the surrounding Scriptures for context.
What does it mean that Jesus learned obedience by the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8)?
The epistle of Hebrews discusses the Hebrews' understanding of the existing Old Testament Scriptures, particularly the Law of Moses, and explains how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament covenant and instituted a new covenant (Hebrews 8:1–13; 9:15). As part of the new covenant, Jesus is the eternal and perfect High Priest (Hebrews 4—10).
This particular passage (Hebrews 5:8–10) falls within a larger context that addresses Jesus' credentials to serve as the one and only High Priest in heaven for all time and all people (Hebrews 4:14—5:10). Jesus did not have to learn obedience as the Son of God, but being fully God and fully man, He did have to learn obedience as the Son of Man. Jesus did not sin, but He still had human struggles and experienced the same temptation as us. It is important to understand that Jesus did not learn obedience in the sense that He didn't know how to obey, nor does it mean that He was prone to rebelliousness. Rather, Jesus learned in the sense that He experienced what it is to obey. Jesus was obedient to His earthly parents as a child and always obedient to the will of the Father throughout His life (John 6:38; Philippians 2:5–11).
The suffering Jesus endured during His earthy life was needed in order to learn obedience. Jesus' suffering made Him fully empathetic with the sufferings and struggles of the world, things that we endure even today. Jesus' suffering qualified Him to be the perfect High Priest of the whole world, once and for all.
The original Greek word for "suffered" being used in this passage is most commonly used to discuss going through difficult situations like persecution (1 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Peter 3:12) or disease (Mark 5:26). Inherent in its meaning is also a positive transformation of the sufferer due to the struggles he has walked through (2 Corinthians 1:3–9; Romans 5:3). Jesus chose to endure suffering because this was God's will for Him while He was on earth. Jesus the man was "made perfect" by His suffering. In this situation, the word "perfect" means "complete."
Jesus experienced the full spectrum of human suffering and remained fully obedient without sinning, which solidified His qualification to be our forever High Priest: "Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering" (Hebrews 2:9–10).
As believers in Jesus Christ, we will experience suffering. When we do, it is important that we stay surrendered to God and obedient to Him. Thanks to Jesus' human experience, we now have a High Priest who understands every situation we walk through. Hebrews 4:14–16 says:
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."Jesus walked through every struggle that we face; He is no stranger to suffering. Jesus remained obedient to God, perfectly fulfilling the Old Testament Law and offering Himself as the spotless, sacrificial atonement for our sins. Because of this, when we put our faith in Him, we are saved from sin, and we are able to approach Him in confidence, knowing we will find His mercy and grace.
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